Durban - Morne Morkel has recovered from the ankle sprain that kept him from bowling for most of the second innings at the Wanderers and will be considered for selection for the Durban Test. Morkel had a fitness test on Christmas Day and batted in the nets at the team’s optional training session. He is likely to play in the Boxing Day match.
“He seems to be okay. I haven’t chatted to the physiotherapist Brandon Jackson again but just briefly chatting to Morne, he seems to be fine so that’s good news for us,” Russell Domingo, South Africa’s coach said.
After slipping on the turf and being helped off the field in the over before lunch on the third day of the first Test, Morkel was said to need seven to ten days rest and was given only a 20% chance of playing in the Boxing Day match. Graeme Smith said after the Wanderers Test that the prognosis on Morkel was “not great”, but the South Africa pacer believed he had an 80% chance of playing.
Morkel spent the afternoon in a decompression chamber in hospital to bring down the swelling and was padded up to bat on Sunday. He was not needed, and Smith said Morkel could barely stand and would have struggled to take the crease, never mind running between the wickets. On Monday, Morkel had made some progress but there was still concern over whether he would break down mid-Test.
By Tuesday, however, the fast bowler was spotted bowling with a heavily strapped ankle and today, took part in training. He moved with ease, stepping out of his crease to hit the ball and walked without any discomfort. He is unlikely to have another fitness Test, and a final call will be taken by team management this evening.
Should they decide Morkel will last the full five days, he will be a certain pick after finishing the Johannesburg game as South Africa’s most menacing bowler. Domingo confirmed that if Morkel was fit, there would be no place for either Rory Kleinveldt or Kyle Abbott as South Africa would not consider an all-pace attack and leave JP Duminy to do the slower-bowling duties. “I always like to play the spinner, so it’s highly unlikely we will change the make-up of the team,” Domingo said.
What could change is the spinner South Africa use. “We need to think about the spinner a bit more. We probably need somebody to do more of a holding role for us, so Robbie [Robin Peterson] will come into contention but I need to still discuss that with selectors,” Domingo said.
Imran Tahir, who briefly called Durban his home ground, was ineffective and expensive at the Wanderers and, with the Indian batsmen able to pick and play him with ease, South Africa may opt for a more conservative spinner, despite the surface they will be playing on.
Kingsmead’s pitch could take turn on the final two days and Domingo is expecting a tough encounter on a surface that may be more sub-continental than South Africa would like.
“It looks pretty dry, which is probably not what we were expecting,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard Test match. It’s not going to be a short 180 all-out game.”
South Africa have lost the last four Tests they’ve played in Durban but Domingo said the record is not haunting their preparation.
“It’s my first Test in Durban, so I don’t carry any baggage here. I love this city. I always said if I were to leave PE, I’d live in Durban,” he said. “I know a lot of the players are really looking forward to this. It’s an icon Test for us.”
With bright sunshine, warm weather and the news of Morkel’s fitness, Domingo was also not fussed about the way Dale Steyn or Hashim Amla performed in the first Test. Steyn went wicketless in the second innings and Amla was bowled twice while attempting to leave the ball, but Domingo expects them to bounce back strongly.
“I was watching Hashim earlier in the nets and I said I know this guy is going to get runs at some stage. He is too good a player not to,” he said. “He has had a great run of form for the last three years. It’s not like he has been in form for two weeks, he has been in form for three years. And Dale, too. He’ll be back. That’s what great players do, they step up. I expect them to put in great performances in the next few days.”